AGU Adopts Position Statement on Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases

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Publication date: 
29 January 1999
Number: 
11

Before a standing-room-only gathering of reporters yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, the American Geophysical Union released a position statement on climate change and greenhouse gases. Within hours, Vice President Gore released a statement responding to the AGU document.

The AGU statement was adopted by its Council after a review of hundreds of peer-reviewed articles in journals, and considerable opportunity for AGU member input. At the outset of the press conference, AGU Executive Director A. F. Spilhaus, Jr. told reporters that the statement's authors were very careful to keep within the bounds of what is known about climate change and greenhouse gases. He outlined the steps the Union took to ensure AGU member comment. Calling the statement "a responsible and useful assessment...of the status of peer-reviewed science," Spilhaus noted that the AGU Council voted unanimously to approve of the statement. (AGU is an AIP Member Society; Spilhaus is an AIP Governing Board member.)

A panel of three scientists described the process used in producing the statement, and clarified what it said and what it did not say. Tamara Ledley, chair of the AGU committee responsible for the statement, echoed Spilhaus in calling the statement "our best effort at describing the status of the peer- reviewed science." There is no new science in the statement, she said, a point also made by panelists Eric Sundquist and Tim Killeen. The panel agreed that the statement represented a "fairly cautious viewpoint." The entire text of the AGU position statement is provided at http://www.agu.org and in FYI #12. The section attracting the most attention in yesterday's press conference were the two concluding sentences, quoted below:

"AGU recommends the development and evaluation of strategies such as emissions reduction, carbon sequestration, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. AGU believes that the present level of scientific uncertainty does not justify inaction in the mitigation of human-induced climate change and/or the adaptation to it."

Vice President Gore issued a statement in response outlining the Clinton Administration's FY 2000 budget request for increased R&D and tax incentives. The Gore statement makes no mention - directly or indirectly - of the Kyoto agreement. The entire text of the Vice President's statement follows:

"Today, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), our nation's leading professional society of earth scientists, reaffirmed the findings of previous assessments -- that greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere, impacts could be highly disruptive to society, and there is a compelling basis for public concern.

"AGU's report calls for an increase in research and the development of strategies to reduce emissions, sequester greenhouse gases, and prepare society to cope with the impacts of climate change.

"Most importantly, the report warns that scientific uncertainty regarding the details of climate change does not justify inaction by policymakers.

"President Clinton and I strongly believe that now is the time to take action. That is why we are proposing that next year's budget include expanded research and other programs to better understand and protect our climate, as well as tax incentives for consumers and businesses to purchase energy-efficient cars, homes, and appliances.

"We are proposing almost $1.8 billion -- a $105 million increase to continue improving our scientific understanding and reduce remaining uncertainties. This year's package includes a new carbon cycle initiative to study the role of farms and forests in capturing carbon and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. We propose $1.4 billion for R&D -- a 34% increase -- on clean and efficient energy supply and end-use technologies to promote advanced renewable energy technologies, ultra-efficient cars, and 'Energy-Smart' Schools. A complimentary package of $3.6 billion over five years in tax incentives will accelerate the development and use of clean technologies. And, our new Clean Air Partnership Fund will provide $200 million to state and localities for innovative cost-effective ways to reduce both air pollution and greenhouse gases.

"We have an obligation to act responsibly in assessing potential damages, and to protect our economy and national security by investing in efficient energy technologies. As the AGU reinforced today, the risks of climate change are serious, the costs of potential impacts are large, and the time to act to protect our national interests is now."

The AGU speakers emphasized that the statement did not recommend any climate change implementation plans, and they were not drawn into making one despite persistent questioning by reporters. They had, one declared, "stuck to the science."

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